By Mark Kakkuri
Lindsey Phelps, Jessica Hazelaar and Brandie Collins represent three companies within the firearms/outdoor industry that excel in marketing. Phelps serves as Buck Knives’ international sales manager, Hazelaar is the owner and founder of Eclipse Holsters and Collins is the PR and communications manager for GLOCK Inc. Combined, these ladies possess more than 30 years of professional and personal industry experience, and they know what it takes to successfully market to today’s female shooting enthusiast. To help dealers tailor their marketing efforts to this key consumer segment, Shooting Industry reached out to them for their insights.
SI: Women’s roles of importance and influence in the firearms industry have grown significantly in recent years. To what do you attribute this change?
“The biggest reason for this is the increase in the number of women who have become participants in the shooting community,” Phelps stated. “More than ever, women are not afraid to get dirty and become proficient at shooting, go hunting, etc. And while there have always been women shooters, more and more people are starting their children early … so we’re shifting the culture. And finally, marketing has improved. We’re finding such cool and innovative ways to connect with our audiences through the different platforms available.”
Hazelaar agreed. “It’s exciting to see how many women there are in the shooting/firearms industry now,” she noted. “And the numbers just keep growing! Strong women role models in the shooting industry do an incredible job of encouraging and educating women to become active in the sport. With an increase of female instructors and sponsored shooters, more women are finding ways to take classes and learn from other females — which sometimes is the only way they’ll feel comfortable.”
“The industry is starting to acknowledge women as an important segment and is making intentional efforts to support its continued growth,” Collins observed. “Add to this the interest in self-protection and growing acceptance among inner circles for shared experiences. I had the privilege to work for an indoor shooting range owned by two sisters whose intent was to make it family-friendly, and promoted it as a comfortable, non-intimidating environment for customers of all experience levels. We had a lot of women, families and corporate groups come in for education and range experiences.”
“With positive exposure at different shooting shows and on social media, women are able to relate personally to each other and get excited about guns in a new way,” Hazelaar added.
SI: What are some of the positive changes you’ve experienced personally?
Collins highlighted the increase of females in the industry has led to elevated acceptance. “Women are spending more time at ranges, in training courses and educating their friends and families about safe firearm handling, self-protection and sport shooting,” she informed.
“The stigma around women and guns is all but dissolved,” Hazelaar affirmed. “I was intimidated and almost embarrassed when I bought my first holster — I was so worried about saying the wrong thing or not understanding gun terms. It has changed drastically in just the six years since I started my business.”
This welcome change is impacting operations at the retail level, too.
“Today, women are sought after in gun stores and gun ranges. I see places offer women’s shooting nights and girls’ day events at their range. Stores are doing all they can to get women in the doors and are excited to help empower them to carry and protect themselves,” she said.
SI: As a woman who markets a product to the shooting/firearms industry, what are some of the challenges you face?
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to think like the majority of my (male) customers — as well as taking away my ‘girly side’ to think like a man and advertise or target that audience,” Hazelaar maintained.
Phelps identified a big misconception — but one on its way out — is most women want pink or feminine-looking products. “While true in some respects, and there’s nothing wrong with it, the majority of women just love the current product offerings and are sometimes deterred by anything that makes it seem like we ‘need’ something with a feminine look,” she said.
Hazelaar added another challenge is simply getting the word out about a product or service. “We make a product millions of people use and we just need to spread the word to draw them in,” Hazelaar informed. “But changes in social media policy continue to cause a slight shift in the way we market and sell because some sites don’t want to promote guns or anything gun related. I fear it will continue to be an issue in the future.”
SI: What steps are needed to overcome these challenges?
“Listen, adapt, be willing to be wrong and keep pressing forward,” Hazelaar relayed. “I’m proud to let people know this is a woman-founded and -owned business. We have a big team of employees who all work together to bring ideas and new products to market that reach our entire customer base.”
As for navigating social media, Hazelaar said the more sites censor and block content, the more she adapts wording and photos to figure out what is passable and what works.
“My voice is loud and I’m very passionate,” she added. “I want people everywhere to learn about our product and our story.”
According to Collins, GLOCK continues to refine the educational resources available to customers along their journey and educate and support dealers with tools for marketing and selling. “No surprise: We aim for fostering a positive customer experience,” she said.
SI: Tell us some of the advice you’ve heard or received about succeeding in the firearms/shooting industry — good, bad or otherwise.
Phelps shared the best advice she received from a woman included some profoundly simple truths: “Set goals and always work hard. Know your product inside and out. Regardless of what happened today, tomorrow is a new day. Tackle it head on!”
Collins added, “Remain confident in your knowledge of the industry.”
“The worst advice I ever received,” recalled Hazelaar, “is this a man’s industry, and I need to cater my social media toward men. And I should dress sexier if I want to sell more.”
Hazelaar continued: “I’m the shooter and holster maker I am today because of the encouragement of so many positive men in my career — my husband first and foremost. I’ve been taught, trained and guided by the best of the best. The good advice has never stopped flowing.”
SI: What are some of the myths you’d like to dispel about being a woman in the firearms/shooting industry?
“I am not a woman posing just for the social media posts in this business,” asserted Hazelaar. “I actually make the holsters, now with a full staff of employees as well. I started this business from scratch and have grown it into something that now provides jobs and stability for five other families.”
Collins agreed: “It’s not about looks. There are a lot of very knowledgeable and well-trained women in the industry who do not fit the stereotypical ‘gun-bunny’ image.”
“I can barely walk in heels,” Hazelaar added. “But I can shoot my Remington 700 out to 1,000 yards.”
SI: What are some of the best and worst means you’ve seen of marketing firearms/shooting industry gear to women?
Phelps says the best marketing tactics are the ads/videos/social media posts that create an “experience” for their followers. “It makes you want the product and to be in that situation!” she said. Likewise, Collins emphasized the importance of variety: “Not all women are the same and not all women like pink or fit female gun-buyer stereotypes.”
Hazelaar added the best way to reach women is to be relatable. “We don’t want to buy a product from a girl in a bikini with perfect hair and a holster in her hand. Most of us would never want to stand on a range with someone shooting in a sports bra and tight leggings. But a mom running errands with a small concealed carry holster tucked into her pants under her jacket is something we can relate to,” she said.
As such, Collins says, it’s important to talk to women and always listen to your customers. She shared GLOCK works with a number of partner women organizations to support their efforts and educate each other. “Not everyone is the same and some of the most valuable insight comes direct from customers,” she informed.
SI: Lastly, if you had the opportunity to address the entire industry, what is the one thing you’d like all of them to have heard from you about marketing firearms/shooting gear to women?
Generally, for women in the industry, the opportunities to make a significant impact are tremendous. “Never be intimidated! If it’s something you want to try or master, go for it!” Phelps advised.
According to Collins, manufacturers need to keep in mind marketing to women requires research and thoughtful understanding of what products are in demand and how they actually get used. “Women are not all the same,” she reiterated.
“Seek a woman’s advice and input on any gear you want to bring to market for a female,” Hazelaar recommended. “Too often, men in this industry are trying to come up with ideas of what they want to see women wear or carry or use or shoot. A lot of times, those things don’t actually work for us women. We know what we want; we know what we need and what feels comfortable in our hands and on our bodies. If women are your target, then ask a woman.”
Editor’s Note: An unabridged version of this interview is available online, which includes myths surrounding women in the firearms industry and more.
Mark Kakkuri is the online editor for FMG Publications.